Implicit learning in rule induction and problem solving

Thinking and Reasoning 10 (1):55 – 83 (2004)
Abstract
Using the Chinese Ring Puzzle (Kotovsky & Simon, 1990; P. J. Reber & Kotovsky, 1997), we studied the effect on rule discovery of having to plan actions or not in order to reach a goal state. This was done by asking participants to predict legal moves as in implicit learning tasks (Experiment 1) and by asking participants to make legal moves as in problem-solving tasks (Experiment 2). Our hypothesis was that having a specific goal state to reach has a dual effect on rule discovery. The first effect is positive and related to feedback from moves done in order to attain the goal: generalising the results of action and associating them to the conditions in which they were obtained allows discovery of the rule and learning it. The second effect is negative. In attempting to reach a specific goal, participants first tend to reduce the distance that separates the current state from the goal state (hill climbing) and so neglect the kind of exploration that facilitates rule and procedure discovery because this would seem to be a detour from the goal. Results show that having to plan actions improved performance in implicit learning tasks (Experiment 1), yet it impaired performance in problem-solving tasks (Experiment 2). Although implicit learning and problem solving are based on rule discovery, and entail noticing regularities in the material, in both cases, rule discovery processes appear to be task-dependent.
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